September 12, 2008

Scanner Test Set for Jacksonville Airport JIA Expects the Whole Body Imager Within 2 Weeks


The Transportation Security Administration will soon be bringing a device to the Jacksonville International Airport that will scan a passenger's entire body in a search for weapons or explosives.

TSA Federal Security Director Edward Goodwin said Thursday the airport expects a millimeter-wave scanner within the next two weeks. The technology, also called a whole body imaging machine, gives a fuzzy, sonar-like image of what a passenger has under his or her clothing.

"It's a blurry humanoid image," TSA spokeswoman Sari Koshetz said Thursday.

But it's clear enough to show the outline of a gun, explosive or other hidden objects without a TSA officer touching the person.

The machine bounces electromagnetic waves off a person to produce a textured image of the energy reflected back, Koshetz said. The waves are harmless and are 10,000 times less intense than the waves emitted from a typical cellular phone, she said.

The scanner is being used as a TSA pilot project, and is already in use at the Miami International Airport and will soon be introduced to the Tampa International Airport, she said. The devices already are also in use in larger airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Denver International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, a TSA Web site indicated. The pilot is installing the machines in several other cities' airports this year, the Web site noted.

Under the pilot, passengers are chosen at random to walk through the scanner, Koshetz said. If they refuse, they are patted down by TSA representatives. Results from using the scanner in Phoenix show that 90 percent of the people pulled from security lines and asked to walk through the scanner opted to do so, she said.

Not all have received the scanner with open arms.

The Associated Press has reported that the American Civil Liberties Union has branded the technology a "virtual strip search" and that the group and others are concerned that the machine allows officers to see passengers in the buff.

Koshetz said the faces of those being screened are blocked and the images of people cannot be stored or printed and are deleted after the officer views an image. The officer viewing the image cannot see the passenger being scanned, she said. Officers can tell whether the subject is a man or a woman, but not much more, she said.

After the device is delivered in Jacksonville, TSA officers here will first have to be trained for several weeks to use it before it's introduced, Goodwin said.

The pilot will determine how much manpower it's taking to screen passengers and whether it impedes the security flow at airports, Koshetz said.

"We're going to use it in a random, continuous fashion," she said. "We consider this a critical additional layer of security."[email protected], (904) 359-4609

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